Could the first Christians, from information contained in writings by both St. Luke (Acts 20, vv7-12) and St. Paul writing to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 11, vv17-end) give us valuable insights into the conduct of the Eucharist?
Please read the Bible accounts contained in the 2 readings suggested and try and imagine how our early predecessors ordered their worship, based on the Lord’s Supper.
Gathered in a house, probably that of a wealthy convert (no church buildings as the Faith was persecuted until the 4th century) the service took place in the evening (after work) and followed a reasonable meal, giving time for the congregation to gather prior to the worship.
When all was ready, extra lights were brought in that created the stuffy atmosphere, plus a long sermon by Paul, which sent the young man Eutychus to sleep, whence he fell, unhurt from the window sill! This was a sign that the secular meal was giving way to the spiritual meal.
Luke emphasises how there were “many lights”. While this was taking place, a hymn (possibly “Hail, gladdening light”) was sung. “Many lights” in honour of Him who is the” Light of the world.”
There was no formal priestly ministry, but often the host would have presided, the sermon being preached by one who had the ability and authority to do so.
Usually, the day of worship was Sunday (the first day of the week), celebrating the Resurrection. (Lent fasting does not apply, the day being one of weekly celebration.)
The Corinthian Christians seem to have been badly behaved, with gluttony and drunkenness condemned by Paul in no uncertain terms.
However there is evidence that after the Eucharist, worshippers were allowed to take some of the consecrated bread home, enabling them literally to “Give us this day our daily bread”.
I am wondering whether this could be for people an “alternative” Eucharist, and as secular forces (because of the Sunday Trading Act) have taken over Sunday, particularly Sunday mornings, then this could solve some of our practical problems.
Now, everything possible other than worship takes place on the Lord’s Day, hence, youngsters are absent now from our churches and there is not a lot that can be done in the present, almost-pagan Society to rectify this.
An obvious alternative worship day could be Thursday, the evening of the Last Supper.
I am not suggesting for one moment that we abandon Sunday worship, but I do believe that we need to offer an opportunity for families to come at a suitable hour.
When I was caring for St. Michael’s, Swanmore, I discussed this with parents of our Mother and Baby group and there was a general opinion that this could be a way forward for them . . . might it also be for us?
I realise that this would be a break with age-old tradition, but as congregations rapidly decline, it is clear that we need to wait upon the Holy Spirit in prayer and follow His leading.
To gain the best-possible advantage from such a change, our approach to Family/Community worship would require careful planning and possibly to take advantage of new guide-lines for giving Holy Communion to youngsters prior to Confirmation.
Our Lord’s final command was to proclaim the Gospel to all the world, making “Mission” a “Must”; is this a way we could do so?
9 May 2021
I realise this is controversial, but experiments with considerable positive feed-back are taking place of which I am trying to make us aware.
A milestone was established this week as I am informed that this is the 100th issue of “Jottings”, so thank you bearing with me. GCR
When a Commission was set up to plan evangelical strategy for the Church of England for the post-war years, there were arguments over its title.
However, its instigator Archbishop William Temple remained adamant that it should be “Towards the Conversion of England”, for he argued, quite rightly, that whilst many claimed to be members of the CofE, only a small proportion had any real loyalty to The Church and to the Gospel.
Temple was backed up by feed-back from military chaplains, who found themselves dealing with conscripts, who had no real idea of what, or who, Jesus was (and is).
A study of the 1944 statistics showed that no more than 10% of the population attended a church in the post-war era, and membership for most was nominal in the extreme.
During the intervening years, this has become more and more obvious in the scant attention that is given to Christianity in either the popular press or the media in general.
A quick glance at the TV schedules around Easter gave little or no space to Good Friday and a meagre offering on Easter day itself.
It is clear, that ignorance of the basic Gospel colours many people’s views on religion in general and the Church of England in particular.
If people fail to come to a church for worship because they have no idea what it is all about, how are they to be informed?
What is clear is that “Outreach” was not then, and equally so now, does not seem to be the driving force in most parishes’ priorities, yet Our Lord’s final command to His disciples (Matthew 28, vv 16-end) was to evangelise.
The Victorian Church began various “Outreach” projects from 1837 onwards with, the establishment of Church Schools, the building of churches in deprived areas and the establishment of Sunday Schools, plus various provision through youth groups, such as the Baden Powell organisations. Most of this has quietly disappeared.
My first incumbency was a parish that had numerous problems, where despite a population of more than 5,000 people, there was only a small congregation.
Being a printer by trade, my solution was the “Silent Visitor”, where at least at times around the primary festivals, a newsletter was delivered to every house in the parish, so that they might know exactly where Easter Bunnies, Mince Pies, etc. have religious relevance, dispelling some of the strange ideas that go for Christianity in the majority of the populace.
The truth is, that we need to answer some of the basic questions, such as “Who was, and IS, Jesus?”, “What is the Gospel (the “Good News”?), and so much more.
If I were to ask you“What is the Good News?” could you answer that?
I well remember being challenged by a regular church-goer who demanded “I’ve had enough of those teaching sermons, Can’t you preach about anything else?”
Study St. Paul’s letters and you will find that everything that he wrote were ‘teaching’ letters, explaining the Gospel, often at great danger to himself.
My “silent visitors” went through the people’s letter boxes, giving me a chance to talk to them in a way that would have been impossible by normal visiting and after so many years of working this way in different parishes, it may be that this is something that we need to think about?
Something needs to be done. Otherwise, we fail the un-Churched if they are not made aware of what the Faith offers.
The end of the last war found The Church (of England) completely unprepared for dealing with thousands of people, whose lives had been turned upside-down and who now had to face all manner of challenges.
The Church’s message met doubt, fears and a bewildering way in which life would change.
What had appalled many priests who had met service men through military chaplaincies was the extraordinary ignorance of the average ‘teen-ager of the Christian basics; many of whom had probably attended Church Schools and Sunday Schools, yet without having any impact on their lives.
A thoughtful and revolutionary plan instigated by the late Archbishop William Temple entitled “Towards the Conversion of England” was abandoned with the sudden death of Temple, whilst the Church Assembly spent 10 years discussing changes in the Church of England’s Rule Book (Canon Law)), while the nation embarked on the gradual abandonment of religion to the almost complete secularisation of Christian and moral standards.
There was a lack of understanding that a huge reshaping of so many aspects of Christian life would be needed to convert what was only a lip-service religion about which the majority knew little.
Whose fault? A Church that had failed to take on board Our Lord’s final command (Matthew 28, vv16-end) that the embryo Church’s task was to proclaim the “Good News”.
Being ordained in 1952, I stepped into a Church that had failed to even attempt to change direction, and whilst preparing to pass legislation to ensure that church buildings would be kept repaired through a 5-year scheme of inspect and repair, The Church (the people) might not be there to fill them, and so we began our decline that is hastening every year.
This year, the TV schedules over Good Friday and Easter Day were bereft of much that once would have dominated them.
Some ordinands ignored the “Conversion of England” concept (which incidentally suggested many actions that have since become acceptable), but strangely, most opposition came from the older clergy who found it challenging their predictable lives.
As you may guess. I, and many of the ordinands were aware that changes were needed.
The very strict theological college where I was trained, was firm on the work of Ministry and set out four “musts” which were:
1 Pastoral Care & Mission, 2 Presentation of the worship, 3 Loyalty to the Principles of the CofE and 4 Revival of the Healing Ministry within our parish churches.
You won’t be surprised that I and some of those with this approach set out to implement the “Conversion” principles as soon as we were given charge of a parish. In my case at the very unusually tender age of 30.
Earlier in the Church year we have the season of “Epiphany”, which translated means “showing” and through the Gospel accounts then we are “shown” the nature of God through Jesus’ words and actions.
I will try and make suggestions as to what a parish might do to awaken interest in the “Good News” by which we are offered eternal life and through the Cross can be made “children of God”.
“Lock down” has produced similar conditions to the post-war restrictions and all our lives have been affected, requiring a careful and even revolutionary approach.
The Church was slow to adapt to the post-war conditions in the 1940s, we cannot be complacent now, imagining that we can just continue as if nothing has changed.
Sitting in Wells Cathedral at Evensong at Eastertide about thirty years ago, Hazel (my wife) and I were intrigued to hear an aged Prebendary preaching, the subject being Heaven.
He obviously knew his subject well, encouraging us to think of a place where life would go on, just the same as before our death.
Yes, we would immediately find our loved ones, looking just as they had done previously; everything and in such detail that everything would be fine.
But, wait a minute, for the truth is, that Jesus refused to be drawn on such certainties ”Would we join up with our old friends and family?”
Our Prebendary had no doubts on the subject, with an affirmative “Of course”, but wait a minute, hear what Jesus had to say about this “They are neither married nor given in marriage” so if we study the Gospels we begin to lose confidence in what we had heard told so forcefully.
The truth is, that Our Lord gave us no details at all about the hereafter. He spoke of the Heavenly Banquet when we would all sit down to a celebratory feast, but this was not peculiarly Christian, pagan religions taught similar ideas.
Let’s dig a bit deeper, for post-Resurrection Paul, when tackled by Corinthian Christians enquiring “What sort of body shall we have?” gives us a simple but acceptable answer (1 Corinthians, chapter 15).
Charles Darwin discovered that all creatures had gone through a transformation in order to survive thus far and really, we need to ask “what kind of body shall we need to fit into our new environment?”.
Shall we need “fishy” bodies if we find that we are needing to swim, or develop legs capable of transporting us swiftly and safely on dry land, or perhaps have wings that we may fly among the heavenly host?
It seems clear that we shall have recognisable bodies, but of what form, for we believe in the Resurrection of a Body.?
For more certitude, I turn to what Jesus says in John 14, where He is more definite and encouraging.
The suggestion there in His conversation with Philip and Thomas, Jesus speaks of a journey where there are many “resting places” (NOT “mansions”) and we shall be led and shown the “heavenly ropes” welcomed on our arrival, and accompanied by Our Saviour. John 14, v 18 assures us that like a Junior child making his or her first entry to a new school, we will be supported, reminding me of when I had a friend who accompanied me as I stepped into this new environment of Sandown Secondary School with teachers wearing College gowns!
Speaking of “resting places”, Jesus is implying that there is a journey beyond the grave. that we shall make accompanied by Him so we need not be afraid.
"He only could unlock the gate of heaven and let us in”
“He only could unlock the gate of heaven and let us in” wrote Mrs. Alexander in her well known Passiontide hymn; but, singing it, you wonder if what she is saying makes sense. It implies that Jesus had limited powers suggesting that “all He could do was open the gate”, when if she had put a comma after the word “only” it would have changed her message, that “He only, could unlock the gate of heaven” and why? Because He was God in Christ.
As the Athanasian Creed states: “Although He be God and Man: yet He is not two, but one Christ.
One; not by conversion of the Godhead to flesh, but “by taking of the manhood into God” we are saying that humanity was glorified by being taken into God
Here we are immersed in the Doctrine of the Holy Trinity, whereby we are proclaiming that the baby borne to Mary is exalted to Divine Majesty with all His powers.
The reason that “He only” could unlock the gate of heaven and let us in is because He is not only the Carpenter of Nazareth’s son, but also exalted to Divinity yet remaining truly human.
Jesus laughed, and being welcomed into a feast attended by tax collectors and general sinners (Mark 2, vv15-17) He wouldn’t surely have been welcomed if He was a misery?.
His humanity comes to the fore when the manhood within Him shrinks from the torture that awaits as He prays in the Garden (Mark 13, vv32-42) and that terrible cry as He hangs in agony on the Cross “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
In so doing He echoes all who through countless generations have felt that they had no Saviour, all summed up in that terrible cry of anguish, and the tragedy that all who had promised to be faithful, including Peter, but above all, His Father had run away, leaving Him to die alone.
It is so difficult for us mortals to take “on board” this concept that the derided and spat upon figure stumbling under the weight of the cross is God in human flesh, or rather, humanity taken into the realm of Divinity to even imagine that cruel soldiers spat God in the face.
Here is true Divine humility, as the poet Faber in a Passiontide hymn could write:
“My God, my God! And can it be that I should sin so lightly now and think no more of evil thoughts than of the wind that waves the bough?
And make me feel it was my sin as though no other sin were there, that was to Him who bears the world, a load that He could scarcely bear”. That is Divine Love.